U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan held an end-of-the-year press conference Tuesday. Following is a transcript:
ANNAN: We are coming to an end of a year of opportunities and difficulties for the United Nations.
Our global mission has advanced on many fronts, but the allegations about the oil-for-food program have cast a shadow over the operation that brought relief to millions of Iraqis. We must find out the truth as quickly as possible.
I am pleased that the independent committee headed by Mr. Volcker has promised an interim report by the end of January and that he anticipates the release at the same time with the internal audit reports to all member states.
I intend to make this interim report public and act on its findings.
As I look to the year ahead, I see important openings for peace. We have had very successful elections in Afghanistan, the culmination of a three-year transition within the U.N. framework.
But the job is far from done. The United Nations is now assisting preparations for parliamentary elections in 2005, and we will work with member states and the Afghan people as they try to improve security and address a huge drug problem.
The forthcoming Iraqi elections are being run by the independent electoral commission. The U.N. has helped Iraqis establish the commission, draft the legislative framework for elections, created voters list, trained some 6,000 temporary electoral workers, and opened more than 450 registration centers, and we have begun recruiting 130,000 poll workers.
The technical preparations are on track, and I hope that all Iraqis will exercise their right to vote.
The U.N. is looking beyond the current elections.
We stand ready, if asked, to help Iraqis as they draw up a new constitution and put it to a referendum and then organize the national elections.
The United Nations will also support Palestinian elections early next year. We have an important opportunity for progress in 2005 toward the Middle East peace process. And the U.N. stands ready to advance the peace process through the quartet.
A word on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the transitional government has overcome some important challenges with the help of the United Nations. But there must be a sustained effort to bring the whole country and the population together, particularly in the eastern Congo, where conflict continues.
It is also important to improve relations between the DRC and its neighbors. Peace in DRC, as we all know, will be as crucial for the stability of the entire continent.
In Sudan, the north-south peace accord must be concluded and the momentum used to promote peace throughout the country.
In Darfur, the security situation is deteriorating. The government and the rebels must cease attacks and abide by their commitments. We need improved security and protection for the internally displaced in Darfur and more humanitarian aid.
The deployment of the African Union monitors, troops and police needs to be speeded up. And the international community must give the commission all possible assistance.
And ultimately, the Security Council must assume its responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.
In the year ahead, we also have an opportunity to build a framework of a more secure world.
The report of the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change lays out a powerful vision of collective security and calls for sweeping changes in the United Nations.
I am heartened by the reaction in many capitals. And I look forward to a profound debate and real action on the report's recommendations.
Many of the most important decisions need to be taken next September at a summit here in New York when world reach the Millennium Development Goals by the target date of 2015, from halving poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS.
In March, I will be putting to the member states my own views on the way ahead.
In the period ahead, member states must work together to build a shared global framework for collective security in the 21st century and forge a true global partnership for development. I will be working to help them do so through a renewed United Nations.
I'll be glad to take your questions now.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary General, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, allow me first to wish you happy holidays just in case you don't feel like reciprocating by the end of this press conference.
It seems to me it might be fair to say that this has been your toughest year. You've been S.G. for eight years. Would you agree that it's been you toughest year?
And if so, do you believe in part the reason might be that there is an organized campaign in Washington by neo-conservatives targeting you to get rid of you?
And are there any circumstances under which you could foresee resigning?
ANNAN: There's no doubt that this has been a particularly difficult year, and I am relieved that this annus horribilis is coming to an end.
There has been lots of criticism against the U.N., particularly focusing on the allegations surrounding the oil-for-food. These are serious allegations. We take them seriously. And this is why we are doing everything we can to get to the bottom of this.
I know that certain quarters have been quite persistent in attacking the U.N. and me, but there have also some constructive criticisms which we accept.
On the question of my resignation, let me say that I have quite a lot of work to do. You have also indicated that I have the confidence and the support of the member states, and we are going ahead to carry through this important program that I have laid out, both for reform and press ahead with implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.
QUESTION: Do you believe that this criticism that has been coming to you is related in any way to the stance that you took on Iraq when you called it illegal, the letters you wrote warning about Fallujah?
And do you believe that this is a crucial part of the secretary general's job, or do you believe, as some quarters have said, that you shouldn't be commenting on these matters?
ANNAN: I think, as secretary general, one has to not only follow events around the world and events that have important impact on questions of peace and security, but I think the secretary general also does have a responsibility to comment and have his views heard.
And often I do this in the spirit of trying to help move the process ahead or to express concern about developments that I see, and in most cases also to help the member states come together and build a consensus to move forward.
And I think that is part of the role of the secretary general.
I also accept that member states may not always agree with what the secretary general says.
QUESTION: You have been to Washington since the calls for your resignation from some members of the United States Congress. And you've spoken to Secretary of State Powell and the secretary of state designate, Condoleezza Rice.
Are you convinced now that the United States government, the Bush administration does not want you to resign?
And secondly, one circumstance, if the United States government called you, if President Bush or Secretary of State Rice were to call you and say, "We can no longer work with you," would you then resign?
ANNAN: Let me say that yes, I did have very good and constructive discussions in Washington. The question of resignation did not come up.
And we did talk about our plans for the future, the issues that we are working on together, from Iraq to Afghanistan, to Middle East, to U.N. reform. And so, we were looking forward.
Your second question is very speculative and I prefer not to get into that now. And I don't see that we are getting in that direction.
QUESTION: As we inch closer to the Iraqi election, there's quite a bit being said here in the United States in the media and punditry circles about the break-up of Iraq as a prescription for dealing with that situation. Do you subscribe to that prescription?
You said earlier that the U.N. is looking beyond the election in Iraq. As the Iraqi army assumes a greater role in the internal security of Iraq, what sort of political system do you envisage will emerge in Iraq?
Are you looking at the Turkish system, where the army plays a crucial role from a distance, or rather at the Algerian system, where the army controls political life from very closely, or are you looking at a third model that you could suggest?
ANNAN: Let me start with your first question.
I think throughout the discussions in this building and the resolutions of the Security Council has made it clear that they would want to assure the territorial integrity of Iraq. And we've all been working on the basis that you're going to have a unitary state in Iraq that is united and at peace with itself and with its neighbors.
Obviously, one cannot predict what the future holds, but we are not working toward the break-up of Iraq. We are working on the basis that Iraq will stay together.
And my sense is that most of the neighbors and most people around the world would want to see an Iraq that is reconciled, Iraq in which the various groups dialogue together and learn to live together as they had in the past.
On the question of the Iraqi army and its role in future Iraq, I think this is a very difficult question for me to answer at this stage.
First of all, we are waiting for the Iraqi government to draw up a (inaudible) constitution and write up a new constitution after this election. And we will work with them to put it to a referendum and then have a second election.
I don't know what is going to be in that constitution, how it is going to be drafted and how the Iraqis would want to organize their society for the future. And I do not know what role and standing the army would have in future Iraq.
But my hope is that if the developments go the way they are going and that the civilians are going to have a bigger political say and the army will report to civilian authority, then I think the two models that you indicate may not be the models that they would use. They may need to look for another model, which I'm not able to define now because they are in the process of working this out themselves.
QUESTION: How would you characterize member states' willingness to help in a place like Darfur?
And furthermore, the high-level panel report and (inaudible) recommendations, what are your personal priorities on that?
ANNAN: I think on Darfur, we heard lots of good intentions from member states.
Some have been very generous in providing assistance on the humanitarian side. Others have given assistance to the African Union to allow them to deploy their troops their quickly, which as I have indicated, we need faster deployment of these forces. And they need additional help from the member states.
But I also have made it clear in my statement here that, while the African Union has agreed to send in monitors, troops, and police, if additional support is needed and additional action is needed, the council has to assume its responsibility.
After all, it has the ultimate, primary responsibility for international peace and security. And we are monitoring the situation carefully, and I'm sure they are also doing that.
On the question of the reform and the 101 proposals which have been put forward, I'm not sure I want to indicate which are my preferences at this stage.
We've asked the member states to begin discussing it amongst themselves, particularly during the months of January and February, and I will give them my views in March. And so, I would want to wait until then.
QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): (OFF-MIKE) UNHCR responsible for sexual harassment. Is the leader of UNHCR still responsible and capable of the post?
There's also been a number of charges leveled against blue helmets concerning sexual abuse. How can you reassure people in Africa that this kind of thing will not happen?
ANNAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Indeed, there have been accusations, has been inquiry. And we stated our view that Mr. Lubbers is working as high commissioner for refugees. He works very closely with the other members of his team. And I believe that he will continue to do his job properly.
Now, as regards the situation in the Congo, it's a situation that does cause me great concern. We have already dispatched some people there, including military personnel.
I believe that there is another individual who is being detained in his country. There was an OIOS inquiry and the report will come out very soon. There's a second team that I've sent to the field who is working with United Nations troops and with my special representative. But we're not going to leave it there.
We are now preparing a plan which will enable us to control this kind of situation. I had a meeting with 19 states who have contributed troops for this U.N. operation to discuss this kind of problem: How can we discipline troops, how can we prevent this kind of situation from arising and really tackle the matter in depth?
I hope that with all these efforts we'll be able to improve the situation, and I'm really shocked by these accusations in the Congo.
QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Do you trust Mr. Lubbers?
ANNAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I think he's doing an excellent job.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary General, another question about the relationship between the United States and the United Nations.
It seems that there has been, obviously, an unusual amount of criticism in the United States, and, in fact, there's been a criticism within the United Nations of the United States. Your son was quoted recently as saying he sees a Republican witch hunt.
How much of this back and forth do you see as normal, simply a healthy debate? To what extent do you see it as a troubling phenomenon on the right wing of the United States? Or do you see this as symptomatic of maybe a deterioration in the U.S.-U.N. relationship that has potentially long-term ramifications?
ANNAN: Let me say that the U.N. and the U.S. have gone through tense periods periodically.
We've had good relations with the U.S. administration. We've worked well together on many issues. The U.S. needs the U.N. and the U.N. needs the U.S., and we need to find a way of working together.
The current criticisms and the attacks have not been helpful for the relationship, regardless of which quarter it comes from, and we need to find a way of putting those kinds of acrimonious discussions behind us and move on.
We have a very important agenda to tackle for the next two years or so, and I think it is important that everybody focuses on that.
And I hope the Volcker report, when it comes out, would also help clear the air. And after that, I would hope we will all calm down and focus on the essential tasks we have ahead of us.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary General, as far as the U.N. reforms panel has reported to you, and they have suggested many changes in the United Nations Security Council formation, G-4 nations -- I mean, meaning Japan, India, Brazil and Germany -- are very actively pursuing it. The African nations seemingly are totally being silent.
In your estimation, without Africa being adequately represented and Europe being inordinately represented, what is the solution?
ANNAN: I think the proposal that the panel has put forward, both alternatives, are intended to improve representation in the council, to make the council more representative and more democratic. And it did look at the various regional representations. And when you look at the structure of option one or two, the intention is to improve representation.
Yes, at this stage some countries have been very active on the Security Council reform, but let me remind everyone that the panel's proposals are much wider than Security Council reform.
There are policy issues, there are institutional strengthening issues and a whole range of issues dealing with economic aspects or economic threats to human security. So I hope we will focus on the whole range of the issues, not just the Security Council reform.
The fact that you haven't heard from some regions like Africa doesn't mean that they are sidelined or silent. It indicates the debate hasn't really been engaged yet. And I think the next couple of months is going to be the crucial months.
QUESTION: On the subject of the oil-for-food program, most of us who have been here awhile know, sort of, the differentiation of different responsibilities the Security Council had and that the secretariat had.
In that regard, looking back now on what we've found out about what went on there, can you say that in retrospect there were some things that you could have done perhaps, or should have done, in terms of greater oversight vigilance, hiring more auditors, that might have, based on your responsibility, prevented some of what went on?
Were there mistakes that you can own up to now specifically?
ANNAN: Well, first of all, I don't want to get into too many details on an issue that is under investigation.
But when you run this sort of operation it is inevitable that there may be some mistakes and things that could have been done better. But we will all get back to that once we have the report.
QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): On the issue of the Middle East, you've indicated that the U.N. intends to play a bigger role in the Middle East in supporting the Palestinian elections.
How personally involved will you be in this process? And do you think there is any indication that the U.N. will be allowed to play a bigger role within the quartet?
Do you also intend to visit the region? And what are the prospects for peace in the wake of the Palestinian president's death?
ANNAN: I think the U.N. has been very active with the elections. In an interesting sort of way, perhaps it's going to be one of the best-prepared elections because we've been working with them and on it for about a year.
And the Israeli authorities have indicated that they will cooperate and remove some of the barriers or roadblocks to facilitate movement of people during that period.
And so I'm hopeful that they will have very successful elections and it will cap very smooth transition arrangements the Palestinians have embarked on since the death of President Arafat.
On the question of the quartet, obviously the U.S., as a member of the quartet, will play its role along with other members of the quartet. And indications are that all the members of the quartet are going to be very active as we move into the new year.
We see that the dynamics on the ground has changed and there is an opening which, effectively exploited, can move the process forward. (inaudible) there are many other countries in Europe and elsewhere who have become very engaged in this process, as well as countries in the region that we hope to work with.
And so I think that the prospects for peace are brighter. It doesn't mean that we don't have difficulties ahead of us. But I think we do have a real chance to make progress.
QUESTION: Two questions, Mr. Secretary General, if I could, on the oil-for-food.
Do you feel that you bear any personal responsibility for what did go wrong in the program?
And also, do you agree with your son's term that the examinations and the allegations are a witch hunt?
ANNAN: I don't agree with that.
And on the second one, I think my answer to an earlier question indeed dealt with that, and I think we should wait for the investigations, because I don't think it would be appropriate for me to answer that sort of question when we have investigations going on.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary General, you said before, the council should take its responsibility on Darfur. In the past, you have intervened or given your position. Do you think in this case they should enact some of the targeted sanctions they have threatened, from arms embargo to travel against certain individuals, or do you think the issue should go to the ICC?
ANNAN: I think the council, like all of us, has been following the situation in Sudan. We've been promised a peace agreement by the end of the year on the north-south, which everyone hopes will help energize other processes within the country.
But we're also seeing that the situation on the ground is deteriorating and that the IDPs are having very difficult time. And so there comes a time when you have to make an reassessment as to whether the approach you've taken is working or not. And if it is not working, what other measures do you take?
The council itself has talked of sanctions in the past. Majority of the council members would want the ICC to play a role, but we also know that the U.S. has a problem with any referral to the ICC. And this is an issue the council will have to find a way around.
But I think those who are perpetrating these crimes must not be allowed to get away and impunity must not be allowed to stand.
QUESTION: But there's no other alternative, is there? There's the ICC and there are targeted sanctions. Perhaps you can suggest a third way to combat the impunity.
ANNAN: No. But I think the proposals on the table should be looked at very seriously by the council. I think we are at that point now.
And the other alternative would be to find a way of really getting as many people on the ground as possible, because everybody agrees that presence of monitors and police and international presence often dissuade the attacks.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary General, the situation in Iraq -- the security situation. We see the news every day. People are dying in increasing numbers.
How can the U.N. ensure a transparent, inclusive, fair and, most important of all, credible elections in Iraq in January?
And if the Iraqis voted in small numbers, wouldn't that be worse than holding the elections -- will give the perception that there is no credibility to this election?
And do you have an answer why the offer for training Iraqi security forces by countries like Germany outside Iraq is not taken up?
ANNAN: I cannot answer your last question. I don't know the intricacies of that.
But let me move on to say that, obviously, we are also concerned about the security situation on the ground. We are assisting and advising the Iraqi electoral commission.
And I must stress here that they are the ones running the election. They are responsible for the elections. The U.N. is offering advice and we are assisting them. And we've offered all the technical advice and assistance that we can offer.
We have also encouraged them to try and reach out to people outside the process and make the elections as inclusive as possible because I think that is important, as you infer from your question.
But the government and the electoral commission has decided as of now to go ahead with the elections.
All decisions on elections are theirs. We can only advise and assist. And so we need to follow their lead for the moment. They do need to go ahead.
Obviously, the more Iraqis that vote, the better.
If you can get people in all regions to vote, it will be better because once they have all participated and played a role in the elections, the likelihood that the results will be accepted by all.
QUESTION: Last week at a press conference, lawyers from a U.S. firm that protects whistle-blowers said that they had been approached by five or six people in the United Nations with information about the oil-for-food program and they had advised them against talking to the Volcker inquiry because they did not believe that their jobs could be protected.
This whole issue of protection of jobs, whistle-blowers and confidence of the staff in senior management has also been one of the serious issues this year. And I wondered whether you could comment on the bigger issue and also this particular charge.
ANNAN: I think on the issue of accountability and the role of senior management, this is something that I take very seriously and we have discussed it, in fact, amongst ourselves.
And we are setting up an accountability task force with -- we hope to announce very shortly.
We are also taking measures to strengthen the protection of whistle-blowers. In fact, OIOS has been working on guidelines for some time that we need to put out.
And I'm also surprised that anyone would advise U.N. staff not to go to the independent committee headed by Mr. Volcker with any information they have.
And I can assure you that from what I know, staff are cooperating with the commission. They are giving as much information as they want. And I don't think anyone has been victimized cooperating with the commission.
In fact, they are under instructions to cooperate and provide any information to the Volcker committee. That's why I'm surprised that some groups outside the U.N. would advise the U.N. staff not to offer that information. And as I said, if they did, they were not going to be victimized.
QUESTION: First of all, there were two investigations recently that staff themselves said that they were intimidated of testifying in front of -- that's the Nyer (ph) and the Lubbers investigation.
Secondly, the flip side of that is will there any names that will be protected in the oil-for-food public part of the Volcker report? And who makes that decision, you or Volcker?
ANNAN: Let me say that I'm surprised that you said the staff felt they were intimidated to give evidence in any of these two cases, because the investigations that were done by OIOS, they did talk to lots of staff and e staff were intimidated to give evidence.
On the question of the Volcker report, I think Mr. Volcker has indicated that there may be moments or situations where for the -- not on the protection of individuals, but future prosecution -- whether names may have to be protected, that will be his decision, not mine.
QUESTION: At this stage, do you believe that the elections in Iraq perhaps should be postponed beyond January 30th?
And also, could we just get a sense of your own interpretation of the level of violence in Iraq? There was a terrible attack today in Mosul.
Do you have a sense that this is directed primarily against the Iraqi leadership, that it's a grassroots group or outsiders? And is there anything you think you can do, as the leader of this international institution, to speak out against this violence?
ANNAN: Let me say, first of all, I don't know if you saw the statement we issued against the attacks on the mosques, the two holy cities, yesterday condemning those acts.
As to what is happening on Iraq, I'm not sure I can give you any better information than you have.
And obviously, you have various groups at work. I'm sure you have the jihadists and the extremists. You have the Iraqis who are resisting occupation. And you have a combination of groups.
But you also have, I think, people in Iraq who ma place in a vacuum. The political and the security context is important. And I think we are all monitoring it very carefully.
But the decision as whether to go ahead or not is the Iraqis' decision, not ours.
QUESTION: Do you think that there's anything more, perhaps, that the Security Council can do, that individual nations can do, that you can do to, sort of, really bear down on the insurgencies and the violence?
ANNAN: Recently, as you know, there was a meeting in Sharm el- Sheikh where we brought the neighbors of Iraq and major international players together. And the intention was also to discuss how one can help the situation in Iraq, assist, support the government and give them greater confidence and ensure that the transition process would move ahead very smoothly. And they also discussed what should one do to bring into the fold those who are currently outside the process.
There were discussions about having meetings with the Iraqi operation, either within the country or outside the country.
And, of course, subsequently, there was also a meeting in Tehran which brought together all the ministers of interior of Iraq's neighbors and Iraq to discuss what they can do to help the situation.
So there are some initiatives which are being taken. Whether they've been that effective or not is something else. But people are concerned.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary General, for quite some time there are talks going on under the auspices of United Nations on the recognition of the name of former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Now, once the United States recognized that country under its constitutional name, do you think that the process could speed up, could accelerate?
ANNAN: Since that happened, the parties have met and we are trying to encourage them to move the process forward.
How long it is going to take and how fast it will move, it's difficult to say.
But I think when the U.S. made the announcement it did get attention, let me put it. And we have brought the parties together to continue the discussions.
And it may help or it may not, I don't know. But I think at least, as you said, one major country has come out and recognized the name. But we need to work with the parties to come to an understanding.
They are also neighbors, and they have to live with each other, so it's important that we come up with a mutually acceptable solution, and this is what we are trying to find out.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary General, back on Iraq, given the security and political situation in the country, and with all the elements at your disposal, if you were the one calling the election, would you go ahead and have the elections by the end of January?
ANNAN: Fortunately, I'm not the one calling the shots.
I really am not the one calling the shots. And as I said, the responsibility lies elsewhere, and we are advising and assisting. I don't want to create any problems for anybody.
QUESTION: Next Sunday the people of Ukraine will go to the polls again. It looks as if the whole world is watching and sending its observers there. What about the United Nations? Are you going to have any U.N. presence at the Ukraine election? What are your expectations with regard to its results and possible implications? And what would be your Christmas and new year wishes for the Ukrainian people?
ANNAN: The U.N. agencies on the ground are very active, have been very active helping and supporting the electoral process.
I would hope that the next round of elections will be fair and open, and all Ukrainians will exercise their right to vote and that the will of the people will be respected.
As to the new year message, I wish the people of Ukraine a peaceful, democratic and happy new year.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary General, 2004 was a year of greater cooperation between the African Union and the United Nations. Specifically, where have you seen the African Union succeed in 2004?
And also, what does it need to do more of, specifically, in the coming years?
Also, could you repeat your answer that you gave to RFI about the sexual allegations in English, please?
ANNAN: I think I will leave him to interpret it to you.
Let me say that the African Union has been very active for a relatively young union. It is beginning to set up its own institutions and has been active in Sudan. It has also been active in some other crises in Africa like they've been active in Burundi. They've been active with us in Cote d'Ivoire.
And we must not forget that when it comes to Sudan, they are the ones with troops on the ground. As difficult as it is and as often (ph) Herculean as the task is, they did not shy away from it. But they do need help from the international community to make it happen.
They're also the ones leading the peace discussions between the Darfur rebels and the government in Abuja and pressing ahead as their special representative who is in the lead. We are assisting them.
And I think for a relatively young organization, they are reaching out and are doing as much as they can.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary General, if you could have one very personal wish granted for the next year, what would it be? What is very dear to you?
ANNAN: I would want to see a situation where we see less killing, particularly of the innocent, the displaced. I would want to see the conflicts on my own continent brought to an end. I would want to see improvement in the situation in Iraq and Sudan, in particular.
There are too many people who are dying. There are too many helpless people who are squeezed in between. And if we can see, at least, improvement in some of these areas, it will make my nights and days better.
QUESTION: I'll come off like the Grinch.
Sir, I'd like to bring you back to the Volcker investigation, if I might. Are you hoping that by releasing the OIS internal audits you would be blunting criticism of the secretariat's role in the oil-for- food scandal?
And, secondly, how much time have you personally spent with the Volcker panel's investigators?
ANNAN: Let me say that, in our discussions with the Congress -- exchange of letters -- let me put it this way -- in our discussions with Mr. Volcker, he has indicated and we have agreed that the documents will be released, but in an orderly fashion.
And one of the first reports to come out will be in January and some documents will be released. And that is not intended necessarily to blunt the accusations against the secretariat, but basically it's part of a process. And at logical stages these reports will be released.
On your second question, in the setting up of the panel, I had lot of discussions with Mr. Volcker, Pieth and Judge Goldstone. And we have discussed on many occasions the setting up of the commission, and I have spoken to them since they started their work.
Thank you very much.